Boxing is experiencing a transitional period, with the the international governing body, AIBA, set to hold its presidential elections on December 12 and 13.
While AIBA has now been without a permanent president for more than 18 months, real constitutional change is set to be on the agenda, after a number of controversies experienced by the sport in recent years.
SportBusiness speaks to presidential candidate Suleyman Mikayilov about his campaign and what he hopes to achieve if he is successful in his bid.
As a former boxer, how do you assess the state of the sport of boxing today?
The sport is at a critical moment. AIBA can only survive in the future if we can quickly address the key issues that have had such a negative effect on our boxing family.
First and foremost, we know that many national federations have suffered with funding issues to be able to provide boxers with the support they need around the world due to the IOC suspension – and additionally, especially now during this pandemic. AIBA, currently, is unable to do this. We need to rid the organisation of the divisions which have caused unrest for many years. Real change must be implemented from the top, and that means serious and proper governance reform, which addresses the issue of integrity.
We must urgently start to make the key changes that are needed. If the AIBA family can work together with one aim, we can support all the national federations again and begin our journey back to controlling boxing at the Olympic Games. But we have to earn this trust.
Why is it important that somebody who knows the sport from the competitors’ perspective is at its head?
If I am successful in being elected as the next president of AIBA, I will be the first president of the organisation who has competed as a boxer at a competitive level. Boxing has been part of my life since I was a young child at the famous Dynamo Sports Club in the old Soviet Union over forty years ago. Since then, I have been a team official for the Azerbaijan national team and I have been involved with AIBA for the last ten years.
The boxers put their blood, sweat and tears in to competing at any AIBA competitions and Olympic Games to fulfil their dreams. By understanding what that means on a personal level, I believe I am the only candidate to be in a position to give boxers around the world the support that can make a difference. Ultimately the world governing body exists for the sport and athletes. I want to change the existing culture and principles to make AIBA a better organisation for the sport and for boxers.
What steps need to be taken to enhance governance to reach standards which will permit a return of AIBA’s status within the IOC – and why is that status so important?
There are a number of steps that need to be taken to address this and all of which I have outlined in my manifesto in full. But we will not be able to get back into the Olympic Games ever again unless we show the IOC that we have made credible reforms with actions, not just with words. That is why I have retained the Global Sports Investigations in my team, who have had a lot of experience in helping several other International Federations with governance and integrity reform.
A senior advisor to the GSI team is ex-UK Minister of Sport and former chair of England Boxing, Richard Caborn, and his insights have helped us to plan the best governance structures. To ensure this is done correctly, the first step if I am elected will be to announce an independent review of AIBA’s governance structure and systems and to activate the reforms required to bring AIBA to a gold standard for governance, in close co-operation with ASOIF. I will also announce the date for an election of the AIBA board, by spring 2021. Systematically, my new team will address all the IOC issues and do everything required to ensure that AIBA can once again organise boxing at the Olympic Games.
How will you ensure that boxing draws up and implements a code of ethics fit for a 21st century sport?
This work has already begun, and it forms a detailed and wide-reaching section of my manifesto. One of the key priorities is to upgrade to a robust Ethics Code and to ensure that AIBA becomes as transparent as possible. This will mean the creation of a standalone, independent ‘Boxing Integrity Unit’ that is run by experts in this area to addresses threats such as doping, corruption, abuse, ethical violations, match-fixing, and violence. The new Boxing Integrity Unit will counter any violations and manipulation of rules in the sport and throughout AIBA.
There is also the major issue of addressing the issues we face in regards to diversity and I would launch a new ‘AIBA Gender Equality Task Force’ to tackle and help improve our diverse culture in the sport, but specifically around gender equality.
What steps will you take to ensure the fairest, most objective outcomes of contests? In short, that the best boxer wins?
This has been a major issue for so many fans of boxing around the world and it simply has been wrong the way that decisions have been handled previously. This must change.
Firstly, I want to ensure we have a fair level playing field where only technical officials, referees and judges will be responsible for official decisions at AIBA competitions. I will also be asking the new reform committee to conduct a “betting integrity threat assessment” that assesses the risk of sports betting-related corruption in the sport, and identify measures to combat these threats.
I have also opened discussions with technical experts in Switzerland about developing new ‘smart move’ technology that will allow in-depth analysis of competitions that will see enhanced technological advancements for competitors, coaches, analysts, and fans. We are also looking at ways to adapt vests, gloves and headguards with censors and put in place a new scoring system that will minimise human error and mistakes.
I believe I am the only candidate with the means to resolve the AIBA debts with realistic resources that are clean and transparent. I will insist on working with one of the top four international auditors and financial experts in the world and clear these debts within 100 days of being elected. I have already been talking with Benkons, the largest creditor to AIBA, to find mutual beneficial solutions on its debt and I will announce the outcomes of this in the coming days.
I am also currently in the process of finalising negotiations with a Swiss-based company for a significant sponsorship deal. I believe I will be able to announce this agreement before the election and this will be the beginning of real and transparent sources of funding for AIBA in the future.
The problem right now is that AIBA does not have the image or the reputation to attract any suitable investors. So, I am finalising the set up of a new supporting entity to boxing based in Switzerland called the United Boxing Alliance (UBA) to promote world boxing, which will work in partnership with AIBA. The UBA will assist AIBA to rebuild its tarnished image and, via individual memberships for boxing lovers across the world, create a global voice for boxing but also manage all commercial projects, PR and marketing, so that AIBA can focus on governance reform and getting ownership back of boxing at the Olympic Games. The UBA will help to promote and enhance the image of boxing and help AIBA in a transparent and practical way.
To underline the concept, AIBA would not need to have any involvement with business-related issues but would instead leave that to international experts. This will guarantee new revenues – in a fully transparent manner – to help AIBA support national federations and initiatives for the sport across the world.
How do you assess the potential of the sport of boxing under the auspices of a well governed, properly funded, inclusive and transparent AIBA?
I strongly believe in the potential of AIBA to be the guardians of Olympic boxing – and to support the dreams of young boxers. I believe that the IOC wants AIBA to remain a trustworthy partner that continues to work together with the IOC on the development of the global Olympic and sport movement.
It will not be easy to resolve all the issues currently existing between AIBA and the IOC, and the IOC will not be convinced unless we stand out through serious and deep changes for the good of our sport and of our boxers.
There are many exciting opportunities ahead, once we have first addressed the priorities set out in my anifesto. Boxing is unique in its ability to improve the lives of youngsters from deprived backgrounds – all over the world. AIBA (working with the UBA) can develop social responsibility programmes (which could be sponsored) and partner with national federations and national organisations to build boxing-related projects to get youngsters off the streets. This could also be an area of co-operation with Olympic solidarity.
I am also very keen to see AIBA come up with new ideas to develop boxing as a sport which involves more female competitors. If I am elected, I plan to develop women’s boxing so that AIBA could participate with equal numbers of men and women boxers at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. In addition, I am dedicated to establishing gender balance in the sport’s governance in parallel with improving gender equality in sport.
Mixed boxing formats is another appealing subject. As mentioned before, the use of technology is not just about using IT for optimal refereeing systems but also to make the sport more easy to understand and fun for new audiences to follow.
But I also think that AIBA can promote recreational boxing to stay healthy and fit. AIBA approved recreational training programmes that could be developed for those who do not plan to compete in the ring but who could become supporters of AIBA via data collection. The research data on these participants could then be used to help attract marketing partners in key markets and would also help AIBA to demonstrate how many people practise boxing (even if it’s just for training, not competition) around the world.
But first, all AIBA national federations are fully aware that the next president must carry a huge and difficult burden, which is to stabilise all financial issues at AIBA. Over several years now, we have been apportioning blame about what went wrong, but never tried to find practical ways to solve this issue. There is now no time to waste. We must clear all debts and secure funds to rebuild our entire operations so we can, once again, be a fully operational world governing body for the sport of boxing.